I used to scoff a lot at the fact that I had no binding attachment to some oversaturated series on the market. The engorged entitlement in estranged mothers and fathers bringing home Harry Potter box sets or superhero pop figurines to fulfill their childrens’ temporary obsessions didn’t really compare to my interest in just making things on my own, or my faint interest that lacked that touch of physical satiation — the kind that would let me bring the toys to school and gain some self-confidence with that sweet, unrivaled fifteen minutes of classroom fame. After all, when Lisa Frank and sticker-ridden clearbooks lost their marvel, the only thing that could account for such was that market validation.
Then, I remember that I did have something in my youth, actually. Except it falls on the entire premise of being a complete and utter weeaboo. I then remember that at age seventeen, I am literally as captive to it as I was at the age of ten. I can’t help but to bring it up due to the influx of joke Facebook event pages that just scream out “Run like Boruto’s Dad!” with the unwavering support of both passerby and people who had grown up with this strange and utter mess of a show. I remember being around the age of eight — the High School Musical phase dying down and paving way to my onslaught towards that “liking boy-stuff is cool” mindset that my unmonitored usage of the internet had imposed on me. I’d turn on 9PM runs of Cartoon Network despite my complete lack of interest in Ben 10 — waiting for about 10 or 11PM where I would begin my nightly beg for my parents to let me watch Naruto. In utter defense for the long wait I would proclaim that I was done with all my homework or that I hadn’t actually been watching the past five or so shows anyway. It is Naruto, after all. Thus began its intertwine in my life, and how it had passively molded me throughout all these years; with the growth of the series came mine as well.
Effortlessly, it hooked me on. I remember the early repeats of the dubbed series, Philippine television offering disparately linked runs of episodes from the first to the beginnings of the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. My hands — as with every other astounded preteen — mimicked the scene of Kakashi replicating Zabuza’s moves with his Sharingan. My eyes couldn’t believe the intensity of the Chuunin Exam Arc, honestly failing to deduce the true nature and incredibility of the presented strategies in the one-on-one rounds until years later. Understanding the niche tricks and explanations sifting through each character’s mind during the written exam portion still stands as one of the most memorable scenes for me. This would carry on to having fake shinobi wars with cousins where we fought over who would be allowed to use the Sharingan; we would crash over drawers and dart from bed to couch with the signature hands outstretched at the back to give us that increase in speed (which I sadly, consistently did during recess time for over a month). Performing the tiger seal on quaking boards, we would focus our chakra at the treads of our heels and pretend to analyze the battlefield around us. Were we at the Valley of the End? An arena? We would mispronounce Akatsuki so many times and pick on who of the revealed characters was the greatest — years when “Tobi is Obito” theories were all the rage and where half the manga followers saw it coming, and the other half did as well but did not expect for that to be the ultimate reveal.
Those were simpler times. My biggest concern in the summer was finding enough time to go through all of the Akatsuki flash games on DeviantArt, or reading those infamous cat stories when deprecated Fanfiction.net slang still dominated the internet. It was as if everyone was in that mutual dip in maturity. Earnestly, I found no distinction between sixteen and nine; thus was the magic of the 2000s in its whirl of sad pop punk songs and nightly anime reruns. Everything was beautiful as most importantly, it was my time. I lived in the moment. The fights behind the 11PM television programming and the choice between the next AMV to click through in a feud shadowed by the buzz of summer air conditioning and childhood listlessness.
All things come to an end. I dropped my interest in Naruto for years after that, moving on to things I found more exciting (such as my beginning years with web development). That didn’t stop me from donning an Akatsuki cloak and beckoning my position in the third grade as Itachi, fabric tugged and stretched right from Comic Alley. (It still remains as one of my most prized possessions, assuming I could find it.)
I remember Naruto’s discussions on power and strength. I fell for his loneliness yet inner adversary to still rise up and try. I analyzed the closure of the sun and poised my hands together, with full persistence on how thought would triumph raw power.
The resonating lesson throughout those first years with the show was that inherent, gifted talent without hard work placed into it meant nothing. In the same arc I watched the extraneous blitz of effort of someone who embodied attempts towards strength to be whittled down to nothing for some lonesome savant (who of course, came quickly to earn the title of my first Naruto crush – in contrary to the Sasuke-dominated playing field). This didn’t come to me at all in those years as they kept introducing characters with increasingly overwhelming power creep – but surprisingly, this stall falls into place as one of the most valuable lessons that the show had ever taught me. The lack of emphasis on lineage and history in the present word with the dilution of bloodlines and gifts laid on inheritance and games riddled it to an unwitting battle of the ingenuine.
Unintentionally, I had been taught that everything was nihilistic. Genuine hard work could get one far, but the point alone was that against all circumstances thrown as the story went on; it was nearly nothing compared to the reign of kekkei genkai and blood power. As I had grown, I began to respect the ones born with all the odds and circumstances against them. Growing up came with the unintended admonition that although we may never be toe to toe with the greats, at least we would be able to go through part of the battle in a blind blitz to be as close to them as possible, although we never really might be.
It infiltrated my ideologies and intrigued me to the gray matter in every event around. Black and white were meaningless when everyone was built up with such insane personal vendettas – albeit some less sane than others and some much more unruly and confounded. Many times, I believe the personal philosophies rooted in that fictional world hold a lot more ground than the mess of reasons why we keep going in person. It also makes me realize how little humanity we have in the real world. Here, blood is blood – all hailing from the same wounds inherited of different scars. My disconcerting abundance of apathy towards the world had slowly been tipping in favor of the end; how everyone is shallow and unfulfilled of the time of day.
11:00PM founded on pleading for more time became a drowsy teen, slumping through fan Wikia page after another, engrossed on theories and never speaking up about anything. It was flooding my mind before sleep with a world so far from my own, the only one I would dare tread in despite not being of my own making.
Maturation came in time with the stories and sentiments shared by each villain. Zabuza ended his reign on companionship and the invaluable life soldered by a comrade while the series was a mess of grasping at people who were too desensitized to one-sided wars for power, lust, and other miniature, superficial victories. My young hands felt the static surging through the television screen as Haku was reduced to a flood of jokes on androgyny. The show was no longer about pure power bursts and in fact, the stronger an enemy seemed the more likely words held their purpose in being the only calming tool. As my young years dissipated, so did my cousin’s various professions towards Sasuke throughout the Retrieval Arc. Things seemed to make sense as we pieced together the humanity in side characters to die once and never come back around; who displayed more humanity, freedom, and fight than anyone else alive — not only in the magical, chakra-molding sense but also in their views, personal reasons, and history that they had grown upon. This was the phantasm of believing, in full stride, towards manufactured monologues and points towards the hero. I grew up recognizing that everything was paved for a namesake and a massacre survivor, yet also respected the lives that people had managed to make of themselves despite being utterly revolved around a story of where they remain puppeteered.
I absolved myself of the drone of my favorite characters, pegged with the critical, mopey backstory on their false resolutions. I heard Nagato’s body coursing with some semblance of hope, a stone’s throw away from dissolving the world until words tugged him back into reality. Lust came from the desire of loyalty, the anguish of losing someone only when they had known they could have done something about it — defying the natural elements only for these moments in which we must have lived for a few moments more. The gray matter in abandoning everything that you had ever known for the sake of something you hold dearly, or perhaps resting in the assurance that what we lose of ourselves is everything that we could have made be. More than power, malice, and outright hatred were orchestrated plans rooted on capsizing ideas on peace. It was peculiarly beautiful in its own way. Although there were means of characterizing villains for the sake of so, none of them came about “just because.” Nobody outright harbored the need for the disappearance of the world or the end of all things for its own sake, but rather, it came in strained viewpoints and misfit upbringings.
Today, I still often struggle to find parallels in fictitious monologues against reasons why we live in real life. It made me envious that these stories were filled with people who seemed so much more human than anyone else I had seen in real life. One-dimensional stereotypes and flat characters heaved of different ways of knowing the world. Everyone fought for different reasons, and although some were subjectively more idiotic than others — it’s impossible to not accept and understand these reasons for they actually existed. Granted, it was at times tantalizing to listen to mixes of people justifying the slaughter of their entire clans or atoning for themselves after slaying thousands — but at least they were justified and had this honor we lack in real life. I often think of why we do things and how all our actions are delegated as such, tamed from expectations and nightly brigades to no one in particular. Merely learning about these different viewpoints and ideological beliefs, in moments, grounded the fantasy and nonsense. Each argument on strength and talent tossed in favor of warped ideals of peace and justice; how, ultimately, the weakest villains were those who thrived on death for the sake of it while the greatest and most cunning were blind and legitimately in belief of themselves walking the correct path. No one was in the wrong as long as they could keep standing by their ideas. They could manifest into new-wave thinkings, warp and distort into traits set for abandonment or dissolve the moment a brighter light had come to them. As absurd as everything was, as unreal and poorly-written this forsaken mess of emotions and nostalgia may be — I can’t lie and say that listening to these stories hadn’t moved me.
Naruto, in many ways, had trudged me onward to find my own reason for living, however silly it may be. Without limitation or concern for the constraints of age, I drifted through angsty staredowns at the car window, watching it smog as incomprehensible whiny teenage bliss played from full blast earphones from my iPod Touch 2; I molded my own conjectures on what life could be, what it means, and then I orchestrated a simulation of my own death and had concluded that indeed, life is meaningless before I had even heard the word “nihilism” in real life. Today, I rewatch the series in full regret, viewing the mixture of motives and heart. The stereotypically disastrous had only done so for in full belief, this was what was supposed to be the path that they had pictured. This was their key to hope; at least I could pick some ideas out of it for my own.
As I write this at 1:33AM, a year after the final Naruto versus Sasuke battle, I can’t help but think of how thankful I am for having come across something so beautifully formative and entangling. I will never be able to share with anyone the true severity of how I had grown up with a silly show, and I know countless others would share the same sentiments about things they hold dear in their heart. In the least pathetic way as I could put it and with full heart and genuineness — fully grasping its nothingness — thank you for growing with me.
In nostalgia, power, and an infinitely recaptured present, we grow and remember the stories that had made us what we are in the hopes that one day, we would write our stories down as well. Like whirlpools, forgiveness, and the constant rekindling of something that will never quite truly disappear, I anticipate the future and what their Naruto will be. I fantasize the comfort and growth in which this had been the only solace in my youth. I’ll pick up the cloak I’ve tugged under the piles of clothes in all my old boxes, and swear its survival towards another day.